Children are priceless treasures. But a heart-breaking Japanese film, "Nobody Knows" questions this statement. The movie is a winsome documentary-like detailed study about four abandoned young children in Tokyo. It's based on a true story but the characters were fictionalized. Their tale is full of primal and distinctly modern fears, from the universal childhood fantasy of parental abandonment to the more grown-up suspicion that big cities are places of cruel isolation and indifference. It took a year to shoot this masterpiece (the overlong story-141 minutes-was meant to reflect the four seasons of their plight).
PlotNobody Knows is based on a true story from the late '80s that was dubbed in Japan as "The Affair of the Four Abandoned Children of Nishi-Sugamo." Four children(Akira, Kyoko, Yuki, Shigeru) , of different fathers, were left by their mother to fend for themselves for months at a time in a small apartment. The three youngest weren't allowed to go outside, even to the veranda to wash the clothes.
The smallest two had been smuggled into the building in suitcases—the landlord would never have rented the apartment to a family of five. Whenever the mother took off, the older boy(Akira, 12 years old) does the shopping and occasionally sought out one of his siblings' fathers for money. (He never met his own dad.) But none of them goes to school. And none know how to keep house, treat illness or injury, or function as a parent.
Mom's absences grow longer, and eventually she disappears for good and stops sending money. As fall turns into winter, then into spring, and finally into summer, their situation begins to deteriorate horribly, but Akira won't go to the authorities because he knows to do so will mean breaking up the family.
Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda crafts this real story into a moving docu-drama about the loss of childhood innocence. With just one principal location - a tiny apartment - and four non professional actors sharing the burden of the film's focus, it's a dazzling technical achievement. Instead of producing a conventional script for the children, Kore-eda simply explains their lines to them on-set each morning and let them improvise.
Kore-eda favors static shots in which moments seem to happen without an awareness of the camera. One of the most evocative is a long shot of Akira and his little sister holding hands, returning from a rare evening out. The camera lingers on things like hands and feet. We can even track the passage of time by noticing how chipped Kyoko's nail polish is becoming. Over time we see the plants grow as the kids wither.
The performances of the children are beyond praise. Yuya Yagira(who played 'Akira'), a nonprofessional, won the best actor award at Cannes last year for his brilliant performance as the protective eldest child at 12. There are poignant touches embedded everywhere. You have to find them yourself. Kyoko doodles on a piece of paper that happens to be a final notice gas bill. Shigeru chews on a piece of paper to stave off his appetite, and Akira enjoys a brief turnout for a baseball team in the local park.
"Nobody Knows" is not for the faint of heart, though it has no scenes of overt violence, and barely a tear is shed. It is also strangely thrilling, not only because of the quiet assurance of Mr. Kore-eda's direction, but also because of his alert, humane sense of sympathy. Some may flinch at the movie's 141-minute running time, but there's not a wasted moment.
The movie makes us realize that in the modern world, the standards of community are so weak that no one looks out for those who live nearby. That, Children are remarkably resilient but they should not have to become adults before their natural time to do so. Nobody Knows is a film of serene composition whose graceful and emotional narrative takes the pulse of a nation through the tragedy of one family.
Nobody Knows - Imdb